Week 4 - Football Game of the Week Preview

Lowell (1-2) at Griffith (1-2)

A USA-365.com Special Report by Mark Smith

9-08-2016

Lowell's Trevor Espravnik (13) has scored six touchdowns in 2 weeks so everybody is going to want to say 'hello' when the Devils get to Griffith Friday night for a Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) battle. (Photo by Mark Smith)

When: 7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 9, 2016

Where:  Griffith High School, 600 North Wiggs St. (about 6 blocks south of Ridge Road on Wiggs Street), Griffith, IN.

Tickets:  $6
Radio-TV: 
WTMK (88.5) FM live, Live updates of all local scores all night on WLPR (89.1) FM.

Enrollment: GRIFFITH - 776; LOWELL - 1,187.

WEATHER: This global warming thing is getting out of hand. Last Friday's cool fall weather got lost this week as 90-degree days spoiled the first week of September. It will be a warm night for football in Griffith this week and humidity should be high. There is a good chance of rain Friday. Just a question of when it comes. It could be a tough night for the players. But it's unpredictable this week.

PARKING: Griffith's move to the Greater South Shore Conference next season will end the series with Lowell, and while the Panthers may not miss the Lowell team, the Griffith box office will miss the paying customers from Lowell. The visitors form the south end of Lake County always seem to beat the Friday traffic and get to Griffith for 7 p.m. football. There is not a lot of parking at Griffith and there never has been. I don't know if the Panther fans will show up in force after some down seasons and a 1-2 start. Get there by 6:30 p.m. or you may have to park 'in the neighborhood' as they say. As always, don't block anybody's driveway.

WHAT's AT STAKE: Lowell looked like a contender for the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) title last week and they want to be 2-0 in league play when they head south on the bus home. I don't think Griffith sees themselves as a potential NCC champ as much as they hope to be a challenger to Mishawka Marian (3-0) in Class 3A Sectional 25. I'm not sure where Lowell will be ranked this week, but they were still in the 4A Top-15 when they were 0-2. So this is a potential season-changing event for the Panthers. After the first two games, which ended in the other side celebrating in the middle of the field, I think Lowell boys understand that they are a 'big game' for everybody this fall.

 

HISTORY: One of the longest series in the state of Indiana ends Friday. Griffith began playing varsity football in 1934 and they have faced Lowell every single season since then. Griffith leads the 82-year series 50-34-2, even though Lowell has won the last five games, including a 61-6 victory last fall. Griffith (official population is a little over 16,000) and Lowell (population a little over 9,000) are not the same size, but that's deceptive. The Lowell school district goes all the way south from about two miles north of Route 2 to the south end of the county.

Griffith doesn't get many (if any) students from unincorporated areas. They are small and getting smaller as the community ages and that's why they have decided to leave the Northwest Crossroads Conference (NCC) for the Greater South Shore Conference (GSSC) and play schools their own size, for the good of the young people who compete.

It's the same decision Hobart made 13 years ago after they became the smallest school in the Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC) and it has worked well for Hobart, who has won titles in the NCC that they would not have won in the DAC, where they have been since 2003.

Griffith's reality check comes while baseball and basketball are still competitive. Former head football coach Russ Radtke left the school at the and of eight consecutive winning seasons in 2011. Girls basketball was also very successful until recently.

But I'm guessing that the folks at Griffith are looking at grade school enrollment in making the league change. I've got to believe it's hard for a school to admit that they will be outmanned and won't be able to compete in some sports. That's not something competitors do. But it is something administrators do. The goal of a school athletic program is to give teens a chance to play and learn with a real chance for success and victory. Griffith facing Munster, for example, is a school of about 800 against a school of about 1,500.

Griffith football was not really successful on the scoreboard until coach Tom Kurth (43-30-5) arrived in the late 50s. Us old-timers recall the long run of Les Thornton (133-56) who won four of the old Lake Suburban Conference titles and five sectionals from 1975 to 1992 with a running option 'wishbone' attack. Then came Radtke (171-64) who continued the Panthers' success seamlessly from 1993-2011, establishing Griffith as a state playoff power. Griffith football was the place to be to the tune of over 300 wins in 25 seasons including the 1997 4A state championship.

But that's all changing. 2006 graduate (and all-area defensive end) Ben Geffert has taken over as coach and he will certainly tell his boys that on Sept 2, 2005, 5th ranked Griffith shut out Lowell 21-0, the year Lowell won the 4A state title. The 'good old days'.


The 'Distant Replay'

Griffith upends Lowell with 29-28 win in Overtime
 

Team 1 2 3 4 OT F
Griffith (2-2) 7 7 0 7 8 29
LOWELL (3-1) 7 0 14 0 7 28

Friday, Sep. 7, 2007,  81 degrees, humid -- Northwest Crossroads Conference at Lowell, IN

1st Qtr LOWELL (7-0)  Steffan Peck, 2-yard run.  52-yard, 9 play drive.  David Lang kick.  6:29 left.
GRIFFITH (7-7)  Kyle Najar, 5-yard run.  80-yard, 6 play drive.  3:16 left.
2nd Qtr:  GRIFFITH (14-7)  Derek Hitt, 2-yard run. 46-yard, 7 play drive.  1:51 left.
3rd
Qtr:  LOWELL (14-14)  Ben Rigby 16-yard fumble return.  6:38 left.
LOWELL (21-14)  Jacob Belt, 36-yard option pass from Eric Roadruck.  73-yard, 6 play drive.  2:11 left.
4th Qtr:  GRIFFITH (21-21)  Derek Hitt, 3-yard option run.  45-yard, 4 play drive.  0:38 left.
Overtime:  LOWELL (28-21)  Steffan Peck, 1-yard (4th down) run.  David Lang kick.
GRIFFITH (29-28)  Derek Hitt 1-yard (4th down) option keeper.  2-point option run by Derek Hitt.


RUSHING
LOWELL (31 carries, 101 yards,  2 TDs)
  Steffan Peck (HB) 24 caries, 100 yards, 2 TDs;  Kurt Monix (QB) 7- 1 (sack -minus-6);  TJ Lukasik (WB) 1-0
GRIFFITH  (47 carries, 211 yards,  3 TDs)  David Alexander (HB-WB) 9-67 yards;  Kyle Najar (FB) 13-68 yards; Derek Hitt (QB) 23-65, 3 TDs, fumble; Rex Cullen (HB) 2-11.

PASSING
LOWELL-  Kurt Monix (QB) 3-10, 35 yards 0 TDs, one INT; Eric Roadruck (WR) 1-1, 36 yards, one TD;
GRIFFITH - Derek Hitt (QB) 7-of-10, 102 yards.  David Alexander (HB-WR) 1-1, 37 yards.

RECEIVING
LOWELL - Jeff Barker (TE) 2-29; Johnny Black (FB) 1-6, Jake Belt (WR) 1-36, TD; 
GRIFFITH - David Alexander (WR-DB) 5-85 yards; Mark Blount (WR) 1-14 yards; David Galiher (WR) 1-37 yards; Doug Ashenbaugh (TE) 1-2 yards.

TURNOVERS
LOWELL (1) interception; GRIFFITH (3) all fumbles.

TOTAL YARDS
LOWELL - 172 yards, 6 first downs, one turnover;
GRIFFITH - 350 yards, 16 first downs, 3 turnovers.

LOWELL: Nine years ago, the Panthers brought their triple-option attack down to Lowell and they were in top form. But Lowell was coming off four consecutive sectional championships and had outscored its first three opponents 64-14. Lowell seemed in position to win before the Panthers drove 79 yards in 17 plays with 1:43 left.

Lowell stopped Griffith QB Derek Hitt at the goal line on fourth down, but Lowell could move the ball and had to punt with a little more than a minute to go. The Panthers capitalized on a short punt and scored with 38 seconds left, with Hitt pulling the ball out of the hands of fullback Kyle Najar and scoring the game-tying TD.

 

With a sellout crowd watching, Steffan Peck scored on fourth down in overtime to give the Devils a 28-21 lead. But Griffith moved the ball to the 1-yard-line where Hitt scored on fourth down to make it 28-27. Coach Russ Radtke called the place-kicker back and called a winner-take-all play, the basic triple option run. Hitt faked to Najar and sprinted around left end to win the game 29-28. It's easily one of the best games played in Lowell in the last 20 years.

Griffith spring boarded off that win to take eight of their last 10 games. Lowell won 10 in a row after that loss, including a 20-13 regional championship victory over Griffith. The Devils reached the state title game where they lost 33-14 to (Evansville) Reitz. The Devils would reach the 2009 state title game and lost to Reitz again. But the three years including 2007-2009 saw Lowell win 39 and lose 5, the best period in their history.

Derek Hitt went on to play football at Benedictine College in Lisle, Illinois. Doug Ashenbaugh was a three-year starter who made 91 tackles and seven QB sacks in 2007. Lowell defensive end tight end Jeff Barker went on to play football at Ball State. He was the local newspaper Player of the Year in 2007 with eight QB sacks, beating out (among others) East Chicago's Kawaan Short, who was playing Thursday night for the NFL's Carolina Panthers. Kurt Monix was a football player and wrestler at Mancester College. TJ Lukasik made 68 tackles and intercepted five passes in 2007. He'll be coaching the secondary Friday night in Griffith for the Devils.


GRIFFITH Update:

GRIFFITH -
The Panthers returned 13 starters from last season when they lost to Lowell 61-6. That subject will come up this week among those 13 boys. The situation is a little similar to Portage, which was motivated to play Lowell again after losing in 2015. But Griffith doesn't have the depth and size that Portage does. The Panthers probably can't push Lowell around for 48 minutes, so they need 'home runs' and for that they'll look for 'Super Joe' Martoccio (6-1, 155), who tried out to be the Panther QB but didn't beat out junior Fred Winston. Martoccio has caught seven passes in three games, but has gained 183 yards, a 26.1 average. Watch for number '4' for Griffith. He could run it. He cold throw it. He could catch it. The big concern for the Panthers is the defense where they have allowed 1,012 yards in three games.

Michigan City ran 53 times for 344 yards against Griffith and Hobart passed for 303 yards against the Panthers. Griffith has to control the ball and keep the defense off the field. The Panthers have scored 56 first half points (just 27 in the second half) so they do start fast. One red flag. Griffith unofficially has drawn 26 penalties for 205 yards. They can't draw seven or eight penalties Friday and stay in the game.

QB - Fred Winston (6-1, 173) Junior:
Winston is 20 of 36 for 490 yards and three TDs (just one interception) so the new Panther QB is a threat. Winston also has 127 yards on 24 carries to go with three more TDs. The Panthers don't run the ball like they used to, so Winston has to make big plays. He has thrown TD passes of 30, 57 and 82 yards, scoring on runs of 20, 42 and 51 yards. So far, so good.

LB - Josh Miller (6-1, 175) Senior:
Miller does a lot for Griffith. He's been in on 32 tackles on defense so far, while scoring 2 TDs on a 7-yard run against Michigan City and an 86-yard kickoff return against Wheeler. Miller is an undersized linebacker who makes a lot of plays. He's listed as a wide receiver, but he might show up anywhere.

Kicker - Alec Seberger (5-11, 170) Senior:
Seberger has to keep Lowell deep in their own territory for the Panthers to have a chance to pull an upset. He averaged 35.1 yards per boot last season (13 punts for a 34.5 average this year) and reportedly made four game-saving tackles on kick returns last year. Seberger is 8-of-9 on extra points and, while he has booted no field goal yet, he reportedly has good range. Lowell's defense will stop the Panthers at times. If Seberger drops punts inside the 20-yard-line, Griffith has an outside chance to beat Lowell.


LOWELL Update:

LOWELL -
Lowell was strong in a 35-0 win over Kankakee Valley last week. Despite two fumbles, the Devils dominated the game, allowing KV just five first downs and five rushing yards. Look, you can make trends say anything you want them to say. I know. I've done it on these pages for years. But the win in the first week of September recalls Lowell's most enduring (if totally meaningless) statistic. Lowell was 7-1 in the month of September the last two years. Even in the years 2010 to 2013, when Lowell was barely better than a .500 team (22-18), they were 14-3 in the month of September. Should I go on?

In the last 10 years, since the start of the 2007 season, counting last week's game, in the month of September, Lowell is 33-5, the second best record in Northwest Indiana (Merrillville is 34-4). Now, a lot of that is due to the schedule. Lowell has begun the season with 6A neighbor Crown Point in August and they in recent years have played rivals Munster and Andrean in October. But since they won the state title in 2005, Lowell has been a target. The Devils have been favored in most of those 38 games. The 33-5 record in September truly doesn't mean a thing because you obviously don't win any titles in September in Indiana high school football. But it's nice to talk about.

Lowell should be 3-0 this season, but they are 1-2, and 0-1 on the road. Until you get back to the .500 mark, you don't have much to say about anything so the ride to Griffith this Friday is very much a 'business trip' for the Devils.

Linebacker - Michael Wildman (6-1, 182) Junior:
For reasons I'm not sure of, Penn high school calls their varsity football defense the 'Wild Bunch'. Lowell isn't quite calling themselves the 'Wildman Bunch' but Michael made 11 tackles last week including two quarterback sacks for 10 yards in losses. For the year, Michael Wildman has been in on 31 tackles and has a blocked kick. On offense, he's caught three passes for 44 yards. Maybe he was 'born to be wild'! Okay, I'll stop.

RB-LB Trevor Espravnik (5-10, 184) Senior:
Three weeks ago, I said that Trevor Espravnik would run for 1,000 yards this fall. After Lowell, as a team, rushed for 42 yards in the season opener against Crown Point, I felt like the folks who picked the Indianapolis Colts to go to the Super Bowl last season. But wait: Espravnik gained 166 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries last week and, for the season, Trevor has rushed 37 times for 287 yards and six touchdowns. Now the difference recently is probably the offensive line, but Espravnik, with luck, seems on his way to 1,000-yard land. And the Colts, with Luck? Hey, you never know.

Kicker - LB - Jake Post (5-9, 173) Junior:
Jake didn't win the game. It was a 35-0 final. Jake didn't dominate the game. He was in on three tackles. But he was 5-of-5 on extra point kicks. For the season he's officially 7-of-7. Lowell has lost the last two regional championship games by one point. They didn't miss the kick either time but one point matters. Kickers can miss field goals, but they need to be perfect on conversions, especially on the road. It's a high bar to set, but it's needed on a title team.


4A LOWELL (1-2) at 3A Griffith (1-2)


at 'the Boneyard" in Griffith - capacity: 2,000

 

Sagarin ratings: Lowell by 18.

GRIFFITH (9-09-2016) Okay, how can a 1-2 team be favored by 18 over another 1-2 team? Strength of schedule. Griffith has lost to 5A Michigan City and 4A Hobart. Griffith has allowed 85 total points, 28.3 per game. Lowell has lost to 6A Portage and 6A Crown Point by a grand total of seven points. Lowell has allowed 37 points in three games, 12.3 per game. Even if they don't take last year's 61-6 Lowell win into consideration (and I don't think Sagarin ratings deal in any way with past years), Lowell is a big favorite here. A spread of 18 seems high, but Lowell was a 25-point

favorite over KV last week and they won by 35.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN:
 

GRIFFITH (9-09-2016) When you look at Lowell, you see one thing. The Devils haven't allowed a TD pass and they have five quarterback sacks. So Griffith will be conservative, using some option runs similar to what Portage did successfully against the Devils. The Panthers go ahead on a long field goal by Alec Seberger. But Lowell starts a drive late in the first quarter and they get Trevor Espravnik into the end zone for a 7-3 lead.

The Panthers will be forced to punt and Jordan Jusevitch runs the kick back for the Devils first kick return score of the season and 14-3 lead at the half.

As Griffith goes to the air, they have limited success and Lowell gets a third TD on a wide receiver screen pass to Austin Giordano. Espravnik's second TD ups he lead to 28-3 late in the third quarter. Griffith connects on a pass from Fred Winston to Joe Martoccio in the forth quarter. Winston runs for a second late TD. Lowell's Tyler Wildman gets a chance and scores on a late run. The Panthers have not stopped the run well all season and if they get ahead, they can shorten this game and keep it close. But Lowell has run the ball better every week and they face a defensive front that will be highly motivated, but may not have the size to to reject the running Red Devils.

 

Lowell needs to fight off an inspired opponent and get to 2-2 and they will.

 

LOWELL 35, Griffith 17

 

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Revised: September 08, 2016 .